Monday, September 21, 2015

And the field winnows....

One of the biggest questions as the Republican presidential field swelled to an almost unheard of 17 candidates was how the field would winnow down to one.  In previous primaries, candidates fell out of the race as their support fell but more importantly as their money dried up.  During the 2012 primary, the first one since the disastrous ruling in Citizens United, anti-establishment candidates were propped up by their own personal billionaires.  After yet another ruling weakening campaign finance laws or strengthening free speech (did you see how I presented both sides of the issue?) it was understandable that the question in this election would be how many billionaires would be supporting their personal candidates and for how long.  The idea being that if one billionaire candidate can single-handedly finance a surefire loser like Rick Santorum for months or rescuing the floundering evil genius Newt Gingrich, a candidate in a similar position could withstand low polling numbers, low favorability, campaign mishaps, gaffes, or being a terrible person.  So far two candidates have dropped out.  One was a long shot for the nomination (and prevented the greatest comeback story ever) and the other was seen as the modal champion of many primary models.

Anti-matter errr...Romney

The 2012 primary saw Tim Pawlenty and Thad McCotter drop out in August of 2011.  Herman Cain was really the only challenger who actually suspended his campaign prior to the Iowa caucus.  Rick Perry fell out of favor with Republican voters for wanting undocumented immigrants to have in-state tuition but he made it to Iowa.  Michele Bachmann brought the crazy until Iowa.  It's just had to imagine that Scott Walker is more Pawlenty than Perry in 2012.

Mitt Romney started as the clear favorite for the nomination.  He led almost every major national poll in 2011 until August of 2011.  That's when the rise of Rick Perry happened.  And as quickly as he arose, he faded away (led major national polls for about a month).  He stops showing up in polls in January of 2012   Herman Cain came and went, is that a sexual harassment remark?  Then Gingrich did well for a few weeks.  Santorum led for a few weeks but other than that Romney won start to finish.  I know, I know Romney didn't win every primary but 43/55 is pretty damn good.

Because of his stranglehold on the Republican primary, there was a display of who would be the anti-Romney and who could push the eventual nominee further to the right or further explore issues that backers and supporters wanted Romney to.  Santorum and Gingrich both enjoyed support from financial backers out to displace Romney as the eventual nominee.  Each found their own way of doing so.  Santorum helped push a more evangelical Christian notion on the eventual nominee which was important since many did not feel that Romney was a true Christian.  Gingrich helped flesh out where Romney stood on protecting Israel and his time at Bain which were both important.  Of course this is post hoc rationalization for their runs and their financial support.

The truth is that since Romney was such a favorite for the nomination, financial backers and primary voters were able to coalesce around one or two candidates.  In a field without a true favorite, say if Rick Perry kept his initial gains in August, we would have seen either Santorum or Gingrich drop out sooner.  That is counter-factual history and doesn't teach us much.  But it may not be best to compare 2012 to 2016 on the main basis that 2012 had Romney and 2016 hasn't allowed us to have a true front-runner who everyone is trying to unseat.  Except, maybe Trump.

The Trump effect

Once you get past the racism and the bombastic idiocy, Donald Trump is unlike any other candidate that we have seen since at least since the modern primary system has been implemented.  Trump is a self-financed candidate that doesn't seem to have a limit to how much he will be willing to spend to secure the nomination.  This wouldn't appear to be a problem for Scott Walker and his Unintimidated Super PAC.  His Super PAC had raised more than $20 million.  On the Republican side of the primary, this is the second most raised.  His Super PAC lagged only behind Jeb Bush's Right to Rise Super PAC which has raised over $100 million.  Rick Perry, the other candidate who had to drop out raised a cool ten million dollars for his Super PAC, which was called Opportunity for Freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, outside money is well ahead of where it was at a comparable point in the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  All this money is currently laying in wait, as they have stockpiled 94% of the money that they have raised and have not touched it yet.  So what are they waiting for?

It's important to note that I am in no way saying that these Super PACs are coordinating with the candidate as that would be a violation of campaign finance law.  When I say it's a candidate's Super PAC what I mean is that the Super PAC is primarily responsible for donating money to that candidate.

The spending has greatly increased since the 2012 cycle in terms of total dollars spent but how much of is it is dedicated to trying to get their candidate to the front of the news.  Or more importantly, how much of it has been spent trying to get their candidate into the top 10 in polling, in order to show up to the primetime debates.  This is the easiest way for free media.

What Trump has shown an ability so far is to get free publicity.  Because of his bombastic egocentric style with a heavy dose of racism, he has surged to the top of the polls.  From his perch, he has been able to command attention from Fox News and rightwing news sites (if you believe Buzzfeed, it's in part because of a financial stake that he has in Breitbart).  Beyond that, he has engaged in Twitter fights and commanded the most attention during the debates.  All of this allows him to save money for ad buys later and gives the desired affect of media attention.  This media attention is getting him around the traditional method of gaining popularity from elected officials.

What happens next

Scott Walker was able to convince the Ricketts family to give his Super PAC millions and just won the Koch Brothers (ahh scary, I'm a progressive blogger) straw poll.  Why didn't this translate over to convincing voters and why did he suspend his campaign?  Why does Rick Perry continue to lose relevance in September?  I feel terrible for asking these questions that I'm trying to answer.

Rick Perry isn't quite the candidate that backers would like to support.  Perry's wide stance at the first debate should disqualify him for everything but yet he sucks people in.  His ability to govern Texas was legitimately impressive.  His performance at debates and general policy know-how was lacking. His supposed appeal to the South, evangelical Christians, and business leaders should make him a shoe-in for nomination.  His lack of policy chops and choice in glasses prove that he wasn't ready for prime-time.  His pro-immigrant stance is obviously not going to play well with voters seeing as how they turned up for Trump.  His endorsement would not carry any weight and would not help seeing as he is from the very red Texas.  Despite my consistent belief that Perry should be a presidential contender, he just isn't.

Walker should have been a contender.  He had the background.  He was from a purple state.  He was a governor.  He crushed unions.  He talked about how crushing the unions being a moral imperative.  He was fairly sufficiently anti-immigrant.  He had a weird Ronald Reagan obsession.  He really should have been contender.  Unfortunately, much like Perry he just seemed ill-prepared for the national spotlight.  He seemed stiff and lacked enthusiasm.  I can't believe I just typed that.  Let's move on.

A primary is how you push a political party to the direction that you would like them to go.  If you want the Republican primary to move more to the right on a certain issue or on all issues, you vote for the candidate who is more conservative.  For some reason, Democrats have a hard time with this concept although it's been used on the right for 50+ years.

More unfortunately for Walker, he doesn't seem to move the needle on where the Republican Party is going to stand.  There's already an anti-immigrant white guy there (Donald Trump).  There's already a Governor who won a purple state (Jeb and Kasich).  There's already someone who may appeal to independent voters (Rubio).  There's already a guy who is sufficiently anti-labor (oh wait, that's all of them except maybe Trump).  There's already a guy begging for cash (see the previous statement).  There's already someone who appeals to the TEA Party (Cruz and Trump).  As we go through it, we see where Walker could conceivably fit in.  He appeals to a bunch of different groups in the Republican Party.  But the problem is he just isn't the best with any of those categories.

If a Republican doesn't win 2016, Walker still has a shot.  I'll also still be rooting for the Rick Perry comeback at that point.  But for 2016, go with the smart money.  A Ronald Reagan hologram.

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